The American standard system of measurement is a unique and odd thing to behold, with its esoteric, inconsistent standards: 12 inches in a foot, three feet in a yard, 16 ounces in a pound, 100 pennies to the dollar. For something as elemental as counting and estimating the world around us, it seems like a confusing tool to use. So how did we end up with it? Most of the rest of the world is on the metric system, and for a time in the 1970s America appeared ready to make the switch. Yet it never happened, and the reasons for that get to the root of who we think we are, just as the measurements are woven into the ways we think.
John Marciano chronicles the origins of measurement systems, the kaleidoscopic array of standards throughout Europe and the 13 American colonies, the combination of intellect and circumstance that resulted in the metric system's creation in France in the wake of the French Revolution, and America's stubborn adherence to the hybrid United States Customary System ever since. As much as it is a tale of quarters and tenths, it is a human drama, replete with great inventors, visionary presidents, obsessive activists, and science-loving technocrats. Anyone who listens to this inquisitive, engaging story will never read Robert Frost's line "miles to go before I sleep" or eat a foot-long sub again without wondering, "Whatever happened to the metric system?"
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Incredibly informative. Superbly written & spoken.
This is a far-reaching, exhaustively researched book that not only covers every aspect of the modern world's struggle to unify measures, but also deftly paints the historical backgrounds against which each episode is set and to which each is tied. The narrator expertly captures the author's subtle shuttling from academics to wry humor and back again. I cannot recommend this book too highly.
- Kevin Hudson